I was in my car — my 1985 Chevrolet Chevette, “The Cherry Bomb.” I think it was about the time that I was turning onto Conneaut Avenue, close to the Bowling Green City Park. Denny Schaffer and Trisha Courtney were talking about it rather casually on “The Breakfast Club” (one of the few programs with a signal that was strong enough to be picked up by the Cherry Bomb’s primitive radio) — as I was driving back from a “Breakfast Club” of my own on the campus of Bowling Green State University. Apparently, there had been some freak accident with an airplane colliding with one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York — which was certainly an item of interest and more-than-viable fodder for banter on a morning talk show… But when I stepped out of the car, at the City Park, it didn’t seem like too big a deal…
For the next hour or so, I strolled around the park together with Jeffrey — a lively pre-law student with a penchant for animated conversation. It was a beautiful September morning — sunny and warm, with just the beginnings of autumn’s crispness in the air. So we walked and talked. Talked and walked. We prayed together for a couple of minutes, and then we climbed back into our cars — he in his trim Honda and me in my Cherry Bomb — to set out for the rest of the day. And when I turned the key in the ignition, reviving the radio as well as the engine, I was surprised to hear Denny Schaffer and Trisha Courtney still talking about the airplane crash in New York City. Their tone had become much more serious, and I was unsettled by the emerging gravity of the situation.
It took me about five minutes to drive down the length of Conneaut Avenue from the City Park to my house. But as soon as I got home, I turned on the television to see what was going on. And the television set didn’t get much rest over the next three or four days.
Angry black smoke was pouring out of both towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. And as they replayed (and replayed and replayed) footage of the crashes which started to be referred to as “attacks” instead of “accidents,” as I heard more of the news about other plane crashes in Washington D.C. and in rural Pennsylvania, as I watched with millions of my countrymen as the towers crashed to the ground, it felt like life as we knew it had crashed too. The world suddenly became as black and as sinister as the smoke rising up from the New York skyline. Rumors circulated on the newscasts about planes headed for Cleveland, for Chicago — for seemingly every major metropolitan center across the continent. Someone on one of the local stations suggested that the nuclear power plant just east of Toledo could be a target. It was hysteria. Paranoia. Panic. I called my brother Jay, in downtown Chicago — fearful that he could be in a target zone. I called Marci, at work in the clinic in provincial Gibsonburg — which seemed like less of a target zone (although you never could tell, in those panicked hours). And I was adhered to the television. They just kept recycling the same news over and over, but I couldn’t not watch. It was my lifeline.
It’s interesting to remember what it felt like that day. To remember where I was. What I was doing. What I was thinking. Obviously, I’ve gained much perspective in the days since that fateful day… and I recognize our misunderstandings, our irrationalities, our failings, our fears in the heat of that moment. But it’s interesting to remember… and perhaps instructive.
So where were you five years ago — on September 11, 2001 — when you first got caught up in the chain of events surrounding the terrorist attacks in New York City?